However aggressively colleges are marketing themselves to college-bound high school students, be prepared. This spring and summer might be worse.

Earlier this fall, the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) took action that could rock the world — or at least the inboxes — of many students who are about to enter college. For years, colleges and universities nationwide operated by a code of ethics to make the admissions process less stressful for high school students. An investigation by the Department of Justice reviewed this code, determined it to be in violation of antitrust laws and requested it be dismantled — a move that could change the admissions process for all parties involved.

NACAC has provided the framework and set ethical standards for college admissions counseling since its inception in 1937. It is a nonprofit organization, governed by voting members and comprised of 15,000 members nationwide, a status that does not provide great power in the wake of recent actions taken by the Department of Justice.

The Antitrust Division of the DOJ investigated NACAC’s Code of Ethics and Professional Practice, or CEPP, and has determined that several restrict competition in unfair ways, subsequently limiting student choice. The department singled out four provisions. In September, NACAC members met at the association’s annual conference and voted to remove three of the provisions and alter the language of a fourth, as well as impose a moratorium on the CEPP for a year, or until the investigation has been completed. Members faced a choice with this vote: comply or cease to exist under a barrage of litigation.

Will this disrupt the admissions process for students? Almost certainly.

One provision being removed decrees colleges must respect student choices once a decision is made. This could lead to a bombardment of solicitations throughout the summer before freshman year, prolonging stress through indecision. The May 1 commitment deadline will likely be challenged, taking with it the peace of mind that comes with finalizing a decision. College counselors also are not available to advise students through the summer, meaning students will lose valuable insight when enticed by other offers. Since deposits will still be nonrefundable after May 1, changing colleges after that day will likely result in some level of financial loss.

These decisions could complicate the process in ways that schools like Roanoke College have worked to simplify over the years. We are among many schools that have made essays and test scores optional for strong high school students, aiming to take unnecessary barriers out of the admissions process. We demystify the college selection process by extending acceptances right away to students who clearly are a good fit. When we know a student would both contribute to and benefit from a Roanoke experience, there is no reason to delay inviting them in.

Another provision being eliminated mandated that colleges not solicit prior year applicants as transfer students. Nationally, many students will transfer to another college after their freshman year. Now, as colleges actively recruit applicants who enrolled elsewhere, first-year students might take stock of the choice they made and become vulnerable to other options.

Financially, incentives for students already committed to an institution are no longer off the table. Part of the information bombardment is likely to come with a free-for-all timetable of solicitations with specific enrollment deals. Student loan stress is real, and the offering of a better deal could entice students away from their first choice even if the school reaching out is not the right fit.

My advice to students and their families in dealing with these changes: Stay above the fray. Be resolute in your choice, and be wary of a great deal. Determining your best college fit is central to the college selection process. Yes, price is one facet, but your everyday experience is more important in many ways. Your college experience is the pathway to your future. You want to attend the college that will provide the greatest opportunities and richest path toward a life filled with purpose and possibilities.

The most important piece of this process is you. Don’t lose track of what you want out of the most formative years of your life.

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Brenda P. Poggendorf is vice president of enrollment and dean of admissions & financial aid at Roanoke College. Contact her at: poggendorf@roanoke.edu

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